The MNF faces the task of upgrading infrastructure and diversifying the economy
In the din over the Bharatiya Janata Party’s losses to the Congress in three States in the Hindi heartland, the dismal defeat of the ruling Congress party to the Mizo National Front in Mizoram has gone insufficiently noticed. With this, the Congress has lost its last remaining State in the Northeast, a region in which it was traditionally dominant. The BJP managed to mark its first and only victory in the State by winning the Chakma refugee-dominated Tuichawng seat in south Mizoram’s Lawngtlai district. But the BJP will consider the MNF’s victory as a significant accretion to its set of fellow-travellers and alliance partners in the Northeast. The MNF is part of the North-East Democratic Alliance, an anti-Congress front formed by the BJP that includes all the other ruling parties in the region. While the MNF has come to power on its own, without an alliance with the BJP, its membership in the NEDA means it is an ally of the BJP for all practical purposes. Despite an improvement in social indices in the State over its decade-long tenure, the Congress was always expected to face an uphill task to retain power because of growing anti-incumbency sentiment following allegations of corruption in recent years. The MNF’s victory was also aided by its strong positions on total prohibition, a promise that carried a lot of weight with conservative and influential Christian civil society groups in the State, which had implicitly lent support to the party.
The presence of the Zoram People’s Movement, a collective of seven parties formed just a few weeks before the Assembly elections, hit the Congress’s chances even more. The candidates of the ZPM contested as independents but garnered close to 23% of the vote, damaging the Congress in particular. The Congress’s vote share dipped to 30.2%, a 14 percentage point swing from its 44.6% share in 2013. The Congress’s total tally of five seats is its lowest-ever in the 40-member Mizoram Assembly. The MNF faces the task of diversifying the economy, given the disproportionately large section of the population dependent on agriculture and horticulture. The New Land Use Policy launched by the Congress did bring a significant pause to jhum cultivation (the practice of slash and burn), but fell short of encouraging sustainable agricultural practices as the scheme effectively provided patronage for commercial crop-growing by select beneficiaries. Mizoram has the potential to be a gateway in the Act East and BIMSTEC connectivity schemes to extend trade routes from the Northeast to Myanmar and onwards. But it requires better road connectivity and infrastructure. This should be an important priority for the new MNF government.